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Supporting Mental Health and Resilience in First-Generation Canadian Students from Immigrant Families

Embarking on the journey of higher education as a first-generation Canadian student brings with it a desire for excellence and success. This aspiration is particularly profound within immigrant families, where parents have made great sacrifices in pursuit of a better life and education for their children. Their dreams and aspirations have provided a backdrop of motivation throughout their higher education. Therefore, the idea of relinquishing this shared dream is unthinkable. However, the responsibility to carry this torch can become an overwhelming burden that often goes unnoticed or disregarded, potentially impacting their mental well-being.

With that in mind, this article aims to explore the unique challenges faced by first-generation Canadian students from immigrant families and offer valuable insights and strategies to enhance their mental health. By acknowledging the pressures they encounter and providing guidance, the goal is to support these students on their journey toward academic success and overall well-being. Together, we can shed light on their experiences and empower them to thrive in the face of adversity.

Understanding the Unique Challenges Faced by Immigrant Families

Immigrant families encounter a myriad of unique challenges as they navigate life in a new country. These challenges often stem from cultural, linguistic, and socioeconomic differences, impacting their overall well-being and integration into society. The following points highlight just a few of the challenges that immigrant families face.

  1. Language barriers: Communication limitations and restricted access to services and education opportunities.
  2. Cultural adjustment: Adapting to new norms, traditions, and societal expectations, causing disorientation and identity conflicts.
  3. Discrimination and prejudice: Ethnicity, race, or immigrant status leads to mental health challenges, self-esteem issues, and strained social interactions.
  4. Economic struggles: Limited job prospects, lower wages, and unfamiliarity with the local job market impact well-being and stability.
  5. Separation from extended family: Emotional challenges and strained family dynamics as cultural traditions and new environment demands collide.

Understanding these challenges helps provide appropriate support. Foster inclusivity, offer language assistance, promote cultural awareness, and address systemic barriers for immigrant families to thrive and integrate successfully.

The Impact of Cultural Expectations and Mental Health for First-Generation Students

According to a study conducted by the National Library of Medicine, which involved more than 150,000 students, approximately 9.5% of first-year students report frequent depression. In contrast, around 34.6% feel overwhelmed by academic pressures and demands. First-generation college students, lacking family guidance, face increased risks and a 71% higher attrition rate than non-first-generation students. These students encounter challenges adjusting to college life and achieving academic success. Risk factors include physical and mental health, family and social support, and socioeconomic status. Depressive symptoms, limited social interactions, and difficulty fitting in are common among first-generation students. These challenges contribute to higher attrition rates and poorer mental health compared to their non-first-generation peers.   

Symptoms of stress that international students and first-generation students may face include:

  1. Anxiety: Feeling excessively worried or anxious about academic performance, social interactions, or adjusting to a new environment.
  2. Isolation: Experience feelings of loneliness and a lack of connection due to being in an unfamiliar culture or away from family and friends.
  3. Academic Pressure: Feeling overwhelmed by the demands of coursework, assignments, exams, and high expectations.
  4. Financial Stress: Struggling with financial responsibilities, including tuition fees, living expenses, and limited financial resources.
  5. Cultural Adjustment: Dealing with cultural differences, and language barriers, and adapting to new social norms and expectations.

These symptoms can significantly impact the well-being and academic success of international students and first-generation students. It is crucial to provide appropriate support and resources to help them navigate these challenges and thrive in their educational journey.

Navigating Student Struggles and Coping Mechanisms

Students from immigrant families face a myriad of challenges that can significantly impact their mental health and well-being. It is important to recognize these struggles and provide effective coping mechanisms to support them. Here are five coping strategies for students from immigrant families:

  1. Seek Support: Encourage students to reach out to trusted friends, family members, or mentors who can provide emotional support and guidance during challenging times.
  2. Practice Self-Care: Promote self-care activities such as exercise, relaxation techniques, and engaging in hobbies or activities that bring joy and relaxation. Encouraging regular self-care routines can help manage stress and promote mental well-being.5 Ways To Love Yourself With Self-care
  3. Connect with Community: Encourage students to connect with community organizations, cultural groups, or support networks that share similar experiences and can provide a sense of belonging and understanding. 5 New Methods Of Therapy You Didn’t Know You Can Try Online
  4. Build Resilience: Teach students resilience skills, such as problem-solving, positive thinking, and stress management techniques. Building resilience can help students navigate challenges and bounce back from setbacks. Building Resilience To Survive During Difficult Times
  5. Seek Professional Help: Students need to be aware of and utilize mental health resources available to them, such as counselling services or therapy.  Check out our talented team of therapists by following this link: Our Specialist Remember, seeking professional help is an important step in addressing mental health concerns.

By implementing these coping strategies and providing support systems, we can empower students from immigrant families to better manage their mental health, thrive academically, and lead fulfilling lives.

Promoting Mental Wellness and Resilience in First-Generation and Immigrant Students

  1. Recognizing and respecting cultural backgrounds, beliefs, and values for culturally sensitive support and a sense of belonging.
  2. Offering language assistance and resources for effective communication and access to essential services.
  3. Establishing support networks, student organizations, and mentorship programs tailored to their needs for community connection. The Rise of the “Mental Health Generations”: How Millennials and Gen Z are Changing the Conversation around Mental Health.
  4. Ensuring equal access to academic support, counselling, and mental health resources.
  5. Promoting resilience skills and self-care strategies for navigating challenges and academic/personal success.

By implementing these strategies, educational institutions can create an inclusive and supportive environment where first-generation and immigrant students thrive, promoting their overall well-being, academic engagement, and success.

Let us know below in the comments section about any challenges you or your child may be facing with mental health in the context of immigrant families.

PsyMood offers tailored solutions for educational institutions and provides support for students’ mental health. For more information, please email us at

PsyMood is a digital tool designed to help you find the support you need in the language that you are most comfortable with. PsyMood considers cultural background, geographical location, interests, and personal needs, amongst other factors, to pair you with service providers for either online or in-person therapy sessions.

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